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Keep Calm and Carry a Handmade Tote

Ryan Gale of Old Oak Leather is "Old School"

Explain how you became a leather artist. What inspired you to start this journey? Did a relative or mentor influence you?
Since I can remember, I have always enjoyed working with my hands and building things. I was never one to play video games or sit inside in front of the TV. Most of my influence came from my mother's father. He owned a company that built service stations throughout the southeast.  He could build anything with his hands and would always say two things that I will not forget:  "Why go buy it if you can make it yourself?” and “Old school is better than new school."  

My wife is the reason Old Oak Leather grew into a business. About six or seven years ago, my wife said she was going to buy a leather tote, and I said I bet I could make one. After reading several articles and doing some research on the proper tools needed, I made my first tote. She carried it to work and really used it!  Throughout the weeks and months ahead, she would have random women ask her where she bought her tote, and she would come home and tell me about it.  After several months of her coming home and saying women were asking about the tote again, I decided to bring it to small shops around Birmingham and get their opinion.  I was happy with the response I received, and Old Oak Leather was born.

Explain the first time you created a piece and sold it. How did you feel? 
I was excited and humbled that someone would spend their hard-earned money on something I made with my hands.

How long has this been your career? What are your aspirations for the future? 

I have been operating Old Oak Leather for about five or six years as a business.

Explain a little bit of your artistic process. Do you need certain music? Food? Peace and quiet? 

I definitely listen to music, I listen to everything from old school country to jam bands.  As for the process, everything I build is completely handmade.  When I say handmade, I mean no power equipment is used throughout the entire process — no sewing machine; just hand tools, needles and thread. I hand cut and hand sew everything I make. I could build everything by the light of a fire if I had to!  

What challenges have you faced with your craft? Has modern life or the internet made it harder? 

I wouldn't say it is a challenge, but I’m learning from mistakes. I make my own original templates, so there is a lot of starting over in my shop. I am constantly learning. 

What would you say to other artists and crafters who are hoping to make a living from their art form? 

Put your own spin on everything you make.  Expect late nights and early mornings, and enjoy learning from your mistakes.  

You can find Ryan’s one-of-a-kind pieces at Caliber Sports. To view the collection, visit, or stop by 2822 Central Ave in Homewood.